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Sexual Harassment at Work
Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment is illegal and there is help available

Young Workers Advice Service Team avatar
Written by Young Workers Advice Service Team
Updated over a week ago

The Respect at Work amendments introduce a definition of sexual harassment into the FW Act. A person sexually harasses another person if they:

  • make an unwelcome sexual advance

  • make an unwelcome request for sexual favours

  • engage in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

For a person to have sexually harassed someone, it has to be reasonable to expect that in the situation, there’s a possibility that their behaviour would offend, humiliate or intimidate the other person. The persons actual intention does not matter.

Examples include:

- Staring, leering

- Suggestive comments or jokes

- Touching

- Unwanted invitations or requests

- Intrusive questions

- Unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person

- Displaying images of a sexual nature around the workplace

Employers have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in employment, such as implementing a sexual harassment policy and providing training or information on sexual harassment.

Case Study #1

Anna is 19 and works in a bar in Canberra. She is often required to work late night closing shifts with just her supervisor, Brent. Brent frequently makes comments of a sexually suggestive nature to Anna during these shifts and Anna tries to avoid engaging in these conversations and has asked him to stop. Anna now dreads doing these shifts and has tried to talk to her boss about Brent’s behaviour and has asked to be given other shifts (even though it means she loses late night penalty rates). Anna’s boss has told her that ‘that’s just how Brent is’ and ‘he’s harmless’ and ‘he’s been here forever’ and has told her she needs to keep working those shifts as no-one else is trained in closing procedures. Anna is constantly stressed about going to work and this is starting to impact on the rest of her life, making it difficult for her to concentrate on her studies. Anna can report Brent's behaviour and the boss's lack of action as a health and safety concern. Anna could make a report to WorkSafeACT online at: or by calling 132281. Reports can be made anonymously.

Are all workers protected?

The definition of ‘worker’ was recently broadened. This now includes all paid and unpaid workers, for example:

- Employees, interns, apprentices, subcontractors, work experience students, volunteers etc.

Workplace sexual harassment can occur at work, after work, on work trips and on social media. Sexual harassment might come from colleagues, customers, clients and supervisors.

What can I do if I’m experiencing sexual harassment at work?

If you feel comfortable to do so, you can talk to a co-worker for support and raise the issue directly with the harasser and tell them their behaviour is unwelcome. It's a good idea to write your account of what happened, give dates and times and collect and keep other evidence.

If you are being sexually harassed at work, you can get in touch with us at the Young Workers Advice Service. We can give you free and confidential advice about what you can do, and direct you to other people who can help, such as your union, your workplace Health and Safety Representative, or WorkSafeACT.

You can also make a complaint to the ACT Human Rights Commission. They will investigate and conciliate complaints about sexual harassment. You can contact 02 6205 2222 or access the online complaints form at

The Respect at Work amendments expand the existing FW Act provisions dealing with orders to stop bullying at work to include orders to stop sexual harassment. An eligible worker who believes that they’ve been sexually harassed at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the sexual harassment.

For further support, you can contact:

Call 1800 RESPECT for online and telephone counselling, information and referral

Contact the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 6247 2525

Get in touch with the team at The Stop Campaign to access support, information and advice which aims to empower victim-survivors by providing information about the legal, medical and personal avenues available after an experience with sexual violence.

To find out more about how to join your union, visit or have a look at our fact sheet here.

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